Oct 23, 2013 Issue #46 - June/July 2013 - Charli XCX
Midway through "Master Hunter," the fifth song on London songwriter Laura Marling's fourth album, Once I Was an Eagle, she steals a lyric from Bob Dylan. Calling out a man who seems to want her for self-serving reasons, Marling sings, with a confident yet passive-aggressive viciousness: "It ain't me, babe. No, no, no, it ain't me, babe." With the appropriation of the famous line, she turns the self-centered Dylan kiss-off into a statement of purpose for a strong woman. It's classic Marling, her wresting the songwriting form from past masters and flipping it on its head. Yet the gravity of the line was not apparent to her when writing the song.
"I hadn't really thought about it," says Marling from her home in London. "I knew, obviously, when I was writing it, like, 'Oh, that's a Dylan line. I wonder whether anyone will notice that?' Well, obviously it stands out a lot more than I thought it would. But it's just a fitting line. I wonder whether I will get in trouble for that. I wonder if I'm breaking any kind of copyright. I hadn't even thought about that."
Ambitiously executed, Once I Was an Eagle is a huge step forward for the 23-year-old artist. The album is laid out in three parts. The first four songs segue into one another, forming a suite. The next three, "Master Hunter," the equally intense "Little Love Caster," and the explosive "Devil's Resting Place," fit together, following the more volatile emotional tract of "The Beast," from Marling's 2011 album, A Creature I Don't Know. The album's second half explores '70s Laurel Canyon-esque folk, taking cues from such songwriters as Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne. Marling recorded all of the album's vocals and guitars in a single lengthy take, later adding additional instrumentation, most notably cello and percussion.
"For the last two records we'd done all the tapes live with the band, and I wasn't recording with a band this time, so I sat down and played the record start to finish," she says.
Once I Was an Eagle also evidences Marling's continued growth as a guitarist, with her playing leaning more toward the blues and her guitar work more to the forefront. Much of this was influenced by her newfound obsession with late '60s/early '70s music.
"I pretty much only listened to music made between 1969 and 1972," she says. "In that era, guitar was becoming a kind of masculine extension, kind of hedonistic. I found that Captain Beefheart rhythms and Creedence riffs and things like that, they do something for me."
Marling also demonstrates a continued willingness to examine issues such as feminism and women's roles. Though she has written about these topics since her Mercury Prize-nominated 2008 debut, she still is not convinced she has any definitive answers.
"One of my great pleasures in life is that I'm constantly being proved wrong and feeling more and more naïve, which is actually a quite liberating feeling," she says. "I find that women's lib and femininity and equality are very touchy subjects and need to be approached with a lot of care. In my mind, there are infinite answers and opinions on those things and I enjoy exploring them. I haven't come to a conclusion on them yet."
[This article first appeared in Under the Radar's August/September 2013 issue.]